Alex Morse was born and raised in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Sitting just eight miles north of Springfield, Holyoke is a small town of nearly 40,000 people. As a graduate of Brown University with a degree in urban studies, Morse became the first in his family to complete any form of higher learning. More impressive than that was his 2011 win of his hometown’s mayoral race.
Oh, and he ran openly gay.
Morse, who turns 24 later this year, came out when he was just 16 years old. As a sophomore at Holyoke High school, Morse started a Gay Straight Alliance. That GSA would go on to hold student assemblies that talked about LGBT students and promote acceptance. Morse also helped get LGBT training into place for teachers in Holyoke. Holyoke For All, the city’s first LGBT non-profit is also Morse’s brainchild. Morse would go on to serve three years on the Massachusetts Governor's LGBT Commission.
After all his successful work on behalf of the LGBT community, a gay agenda had nothing to do with why Morse wanted to be the leader of his city.
“I ran for mayor not because I’m gay, but because I want what’s best for my city,” Morse said. “Unlike any other candidate I door knocked to get my name and face out there.”
That sort of grass roots campaigning is what won Morse his primary, by just one vote over the incumbent. Morse, who was the only candidate under the age of 60, said he had people coming up to him saying that they were the one vote that gave him the win.
He took the slogan, “I was the 1 vote” and put it on t-shirts to raise funds.
“It sent a message that people wanted change,” Morse said. “We changed the perception of the city overnight.”
Massachusetts itself created change when it became the first state to issue same-sex marriage licenses. By electing Morse, Holyoke has the youngest openly gay mayor in America, which further solidified its place as a state that recognizes the need for change.
Morse said his sexuality in his campaign never really became a problem, or an issue, that was used by his opponents. He completed training by the Victory Fund and gained the LGBT political candidate support system’s endorsement.
“I didn’t have to go through a coming out process in my campaign since I was already out,” Morse said.
“Coming out becomes a distraction for others, but people can’t use it against me when I claim and take control of a situation.”
Even with their small population, when Alex took office in January of 2012, Holyoke had one of the worst unemployment rates in the country with nearly 12 percent of the population out of work. With hard work and the help of those around him, Morse has seen the unemployment rate drop nearly 2 percent in his first year. Credit his understanding of the economy and technology.
“I was the only candidate raised in the digital age,” Morse said. “I know we’re in a tough fiscal situation, and I’ve proven my goal to help my city by sitting down and creating a budget without raising taxes and making the tough decisions on what needs to be cut where.”
Under Morse’s leadership the city is opening a new senior center, its first skate park, with plans for new parks to beautify the area.
In the future he has big plans for his small city, including a train platform to connect Holyoke to New York City and Montreal.
He is also spearheading the launch of a new website, which he hopes will rebrand the city, and showcase his plan for a new homebuyer’s incentive to bring more people into the area. Morse also prides himself on the fact that under his first year on watch, no homicides were committed inside Holyoke city limits.
Getting into his second year, Morse is gearing up for his re-election bid. Hopes are high that he’s done a good enough job to earn his city’s trust for more time to do what he believes is the right direction for his people.
“We’ve created a lot of positive momentum and we’re moving in the right direction,” Morse said. “I hope to keep it that way.”